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NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell Expects Disney to Write ‘Big Check’ for Comcast’s Hulu Stake

Under a 2019 agreement, the media giant’s 33% minority stake in the streamer is up for grabs as early as January 2024

NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said Monday that he expects Disney to write a “big check” to obtain complete ownership of Hulu.

Under a 2019 put/call agreement, Disney can buy out rival Comcast’s remaining 33% stake in the hybrid subscription/ad-supported streamer as early as January 2024 – and Comcast can require that Disney do so.

“We think it’s worth a lot of money because it’s sold on a full-control basis, as if you were auctioning it off,” Shell told the UBS Global TMT Conference on Monday. “And I think there’s no indication that anything else is going to happen than Disney writing us a big check for the asset in ‘24.”

Disney has guaranteed a minimum total equity value of $27.5 billion, suggesting that Comcast’s share would be worth at least $9 billion. As of Oct. 1, 2022, Disney valued Comcast’s stake at $8.7 billion, according to its latest annual report.

During Goldman Sachs Communacopia and Technology Conference in September, former Disney CEO Bob Chapek expressed an interest in buying out the Comcast stake.

“We would love to get to the end point earlier, but that obviously takes some level of propensity for the other party to have reasonable terms for us to get there,” Chapek said at the time. “And if we could get there, I would be more than happy to try to facilitate that.”

At the same conference, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts signaled an interest in buying out Disney’s stake.

“Hulu’s a phenomenal business. Its scale is fantastic. It has wonderful content,” Roberts said. “I believe if it was for sale, put up for sale, Comcast would be interested, and so would a lot of other tech and media companies.” 

Chapek’s predecessor and now successor Bob Iger has been mum on his plans for Hulu, even suggesting at a company town hall on Nov. 28 that he’s “very, very comfortable with the set of assets we have” and “there’s no sense of urgency or even interest right now in acquiring anything more.” But it’s unclear if he views Hulu as a new acquisition.

The latest chatter about Comcast’s minority stake in Hulu comes as the media giant has been reclaiming content to bolster its own streaming service, Peacock.

Shell noted during the UBS conference that pulling programming like “Chicago”, “Law and Order” and “Saturday Night Live” from Hulu has had a significant impact on Peacock’s growth.

“If you look at the strength of NBC, our Wednesday night “Chicago” lineup and our Thursday night “Law and Order” lineup, having both of those on Peacock with the library that was already working that used to be on Hulu, that’s working,” he explained. “And then you see SNL. I mean SNL – this weekend we have Steve Martin and Martin Short hosting which is going to be iconic, and you’ll see Peacock benefit from that when SNL goes on that the next day, which used to go right to Hulu. So it’s having a big impact. And then the Bravo content. The Bravo content is just amazing and that’s having a big impact, maybe in some cases bigger than the NBC content.”

As of Monday, Peacock has reached 18 million subscribers, more than double since the beginning of the year.